Mobility and stability are essential elements of functional performance. An athlete may have acquired exceptional skill and be able to perform at an elite level; however, if the athlete hasn’t enhanced her foundation of mobility and stability to keep pace with the developing skill, performance may plateau and/or injuries may result.
Mobility is defined as the overall freedom of movement of a joint. Mobility may be limited or enhanced by flexibility. Understanding mobility requires an understanding of the following concepts:
Range of Motion (ROM): The degree of movement of a joint.
Active ROM: The degree of joint movement that can be achieved solely by muscle activity, in the absence of external assistance.
Passive ROM: The degree of joint movement that can be achieved by adding external assistance to enhance the effect of muscle activity.
One’s active ROM, rather than one’s passive ROM, determines mobility. Without mobility, proper form and technique are lost and movement becomes inefficient, even dangerous. Therefore, mobility is a fundamental element of functional performance.
Stability, the second supporting pillar in the functional performance structure, may be described as the ability to control joint mobility. Stability is required to maintain a safe, neutral position and avoid a harmful posture or movement under the influence of outside forces.
Mobility and stability are the foundational elements, or pillars, that support the entire structure of functional performance. They remain the first priority and must be maintained and enhanced as needed to support the ongoing development of other performance elements. Controlled mobility and dynamic stability are reciprocating components that are responsible for ease of movement. Too little or too much mobility or stability can degrade performance or create compensations and imbalances that increase the potential for injury. An athlete’s skill is maximized only when the underlying elements of performance are well developed and in balance.
Stretching is beneficial only if it is done properly and regularly. Flexibility diminishes over time when muscles aren’t stretched or exercised. Inflexible muscles and joints limit movement and cause skills to be awkward and inefficient. A lack of flexibility limits performance and increases the risk of injury.
Benefits of Stretching
- Optimizes an athlete’s performance.
- Increases an athlete’s mental and physical relaxation.
- Promotes development of body awareness.
- Reduces risk of injury.
- Can reduce muscle soreness.
- Can reduce muscle tension.
Benefits of Using the Stability Ball for Sports Stretching
- Core musculature and certain other muscles are working to stabilize an athlete who trains on this unstable prop.
- The ball provides a base of support, so the athlete can fully relax and gently roll into a more effective stretch.
- With the ball it is easy to position the body for a greater range of motion than is possible with some traditional exercises.
- Ball work improves balance, posture, body awareness and coordination.
- Neuromotor skills are developed by learning to coordinate movement patterns on this dynamic prop.
- The ball is portable, inexpensive and low maintenance.
General Sports Stretch Recommendations
- Duration: 20-30 seconds per stretch.
- Reps: As training progresses, increase the number of successive reps. Progressively incorporate dynamic stretching with a gradual increase in ROM.
- Frequency: Once a day, 3-5 days per week, to maintain flexibility. Depending on their sport, dedicated and serious athletes may require 2-3 stretching sessions per day, 6-7 days per week.
- Timing: Perform stretches after the main part of the workout and during the cool-down period, because tissue temperatures are highest, making stretching both safer and more productive.
- Intensity: Stretch to the point of comfortable tension, not pain.
For some athletes, excessive flexibility may destabilize joints and increase risk of hypermobility, ligament injury and joint separation or dislocation. Some experts feel that excessively loose joints may lead to premature development of osteoarthritis in athletes. If muscles begin to quiver or vibrate, if pain persists or if range of motion decreases, the athlete has stretched too much. Athletes need to stretch gradually, slowly and using correct technique to avoid injuring themselves during stretching.
Sample All-Star Sports Stretch
This stretch covers the major muscle groups and regions of the body. It can be easily performed by most healthy athletes in most disciplines and requires only 10-15 minutes to perform.
- POB (prone over ball) quadriceps stretch
- POB calf stretch
- POB rotary torso + chest stretch
- POB trunk extension/child’s pose
- supine hamstring + scissor twist
- supine butterfly groin stretch
- seated hip flexor + lat stretch
- seated saw
- seated hook & look (rotary torso)
- seated figure four
Carol Murphy will demonstrate how to use the ball to develop controlled mobility and dynamic stability for strong, fluid movement during her “Sports Stretch on the Ball” workshop at the IDEA Fitness Fusion Conference™, April 3-6 in Rosemont, Illinois. Workshop participants will learn how these exercises can fit into many programs and can give clients and members a whole new twist in stretching. For more information or to register for the event, go to www.ideafit.com/fusion.